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back to article Govt tells science to budge up for arts at new hi-tech uni

Science and universities minister David Willetts wants to start a new technology university, pretty much following what Eric Schmidt said about mixing up the arts and sciences. Willetts name-dropped the Google boss in a speech at Policy Exchange yesterday, announcing the launch of his plans for a high-tech Britain. The …

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Another bright idea

<mini-rant>Not wishing to make any criticism of dear old two brains, but we already have too many universities and are likely to see some going to the wall in the next few years. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, don't most existing ones already teach arts as well as science? Many universities already do the public/private partneship thing with local and multinational firms, so I'm not seeing the big idea here.

It might be more advantageous to concentrate on making secondary school science courses relevant and fun (remember experiments, those of you who are old enough), really jack up the computer science teaching (discussed ad nauseam here already) and provide good vocational courses for those who don't want to or can't (for whatever reason) go to university.

Next, how about technical colleges for the latter group? Perhaps support regional arts colleges too. You could even, if really daring, concentrate on improving what we already have rather than having a new half-baked educational initiative every year.</mini-rant>

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Anonymous Coward

Wheel Reinvention Courses

Excellent rant.

It seems likely that the sole goal will be to invent new initiatives every year until the next election - the idea being that none will have been shown up to be barking (1 year to implement, 4 year course...) in time for it to reflect at the polls....

Bring back the Polys and tech schools.

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Did he really say that?

So Willetts recokons that what Eric Schimdt said when he was stroking the egos of a bunch of pissed up luvvies [a term referred to in the speech, as was "boffin"] and TV execs on a jolly, went like this:

> he said that this arts v sciences debate really ought to be dead and buried and instead we should recognise how complementary they are

But when you look at the content of the speech, (courtesy of El Graunian) what it says is:

> First you need to bring art and science back together. Think back to the glory days of the Victorian era. It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges. Lewis Carroll didn't just write one of the classic fairytales of all time, he was also a mathemetics tutor at Oxford. James Clerk Maxwell was described by Einstein as among the best physicists since Newton - but was also a published poet.

Here comes the good bit

> Over the past century the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. There's been a drift to the humanities - engineering and science aren't championed. Even worse, both sides seem to denigrate the other - to use what I'm told is the local vernacular, you're either a 'luvvy' or a 'bofffin'

So what Mr. Google appears to be saying is that we should start whacking all the humanities types over the head with a copy of Bleaney and Bleaney and make our phsyicists write poetry in their spare time (which I'm sure they'd love). None of that sounds too hard, but it's a long way from advocating a new university for both arts and technology. Maybe once the polymaths can knock together a limerick-creating algorithm, we can lose the arts side of this and focus on what SCHMIDT ACTUALLY SAID about getting a sound technological foundation back into the education system.

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"None of that sounds too hard..."

That's the engineer scribbling a first approximation solution on the back of an envelope. But what's it like from the Other Side?

Not so hot actually. You see, if it isn't verifiable, it isn't meaningful - is it? Which entails that the humanities are largely condemned to forever produce twaddle and humbug -- if you prefer, poetry and mythologies -- unless they come up with something useful, for example, techniques of social control.

Or how about a different way of exemplifying the divide - between climatology and climate scientology, say, or between science and post-normal science. In the 19th century it may have been a short hop across the quad from the science lab to the old toffees sat around the fire, but it would be a useless metaphor to describe the situation today as a chasm. A chasm exists in space and time, and implies a program to bridge it (the program may not be technically feasible, or too expensive, or offend the crusties, but that's another matter). Mr Google offers no program, recognising implicitly that the categories of Science and Arts are distinguished beyond space amd time, that is, as a metaphysical distinction that relies on a metaphysical premise.

You may well hark back to "the glory days of the Victorian era", because the Logical Positivists subsequently came along to let this dubious genie out of the bottle. And there's no time machine. The way forward is clear, nonetheless, but who's up for it? Or, to come back across the quad to the science lab, just how hard can it be a verify a black hole, for example, or the Big Bang?

So, in brief, what exactly is that government Minister for?

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Anonymous Coward

The minister...

... is there for looking minister-y, for shouting "we need to do something! this is something! we must do this!" and then run around and shout a lot until the "this" is done. Then REDO FROM START.

That, in its most BASIC form, is all there is to it. Oh, and ON ERROR RESUME NEXT. That too.

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Facepalm

instead of just thinking about STEM, we should add the Arts so it becomes STEAM.

Way to buzzword, man!

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Coat

If he's getting art together with science, shouldn't it be MATES?

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Joke

"instead of just thinking about STEM, we should add the Arts so it becomes STEAM."

Sounds like a load of hot air to me

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Anonymous Coward

It is disappointing to see a politician on the political right advocating more government, especially around entrepreneurial activity.

he would be better advised to work with his cabinet colleagues to reduce the red tape burden on small enterprises and let them do the important role of creating jobs for science graduates.

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FAIL

Crumbs

Do you think he might be adviocating a - wait for it - University? Having screwed up Universities enough (to be fair, not just half a brain but also Labour and previous Conservative administrations - now ably assisted by that idiot Cable) yiou might think he would like to observe any effects that might come form his 'reforms'

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silly

Don't forget that no government of any political persuasion uses evidence based policy unless it agrees with their own prejudices.

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Holmes

Yes - it looks like it

Perhaps Willets slept through C18 history - or maybe it's compulsory for politicians to reject the enlightenment and all of its evil works as part of their initiation to the House of knee jerks, sound-bites and self-servitude. Either way - I'm sure his mates will soon put a stop to all this "rounded education" nonsense and get the clones back to their cubicles in good order.

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Came here to say just that

A University - a place that teaches the full gamut of courses to the highest standard.

My solution to those "universities" that want to drop physics and chemistry because they are too expensive is that they should, of course be allowed to do so, but should also lose the university moniker. Polytechnic has a nice ring to it.

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NB

Here's a thought

Make core science (maths, chemistry, biology, physics etc) and humanities (literature, history, art - art history can go fuck itself) courses free and only allow Universities to charge for idiotic bullshit courses like Media Studies etc.

Then the state can subsidise the people whose choice of course might actually be of some benefit to the country and the ones who just want to go to uni because it looks like something to do for 3 - 4 years can fuck off...

Just a thought...

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Anonymous Coward

Apology to NB - Here's a thought.

Try as I might, I could only upvote your post once,

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Why not go the other way

And those who successfully complete a degree have a portion of their loan paid off by government when they have paid a certain amount of taxes?

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FAIL

Or...

Well, that's how it used to sort of work, before the bastards in power decided to pull the ladder up behind them. I got a free university education, courtesy of the taxpayer (not the government) back in the day, which was much appreciated thank-you. I very much doubt that I would have considered that now with this loan crap, especially as, then as now, the main consideration was riding out a recession doing something more useful than sitting around on the dole. Also, it's rather fun to see the expression on younger people's faces when I tell them that I could get my rent paid for the Christmas and Easter breaks and full income support for the summer. I graduated with £120 in the bank, plus a large repertoire of mince recipies, having never done a days paid work in my life.

Not wishing to get into the science vs. art argument (although I did go to a university where every toilet roll holder had the legend "Arts degrees, please take one" inscribed above it in bold letters) but I guess it comes down to whether you regard it as indulgency or an investment in the future. I can't say for certain if not having that opportunity would have made a difference to how things panned out; neither can I say that it was a hinderance having a degree in a hard science once out in the big world. What I do know for a fact is that I've paid more in tax every month for the last 20 years than I got in a year from the taxpayer as a student and that seems like we both got a fair deal out of it. I also have no doubt that that education was a large part of the componentry of this fact.

I also know that I am hugely unimpressed that public policy regarding education seems to be "Heads, we win, tails, you lose" these days. That being so, I regard Mr. Willetts' statement to be the usual grandstanding dipshittery that seems to pass for debate on this subject.

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Here in the states

Science is what pays for the humanities as it is. The best funded unis -- Harvard, Cal, Michigan, MIT, etc etc etc -- have one thing in common: big science/engineering. The funding for every research grant requires the university gets matching funds, what's called a 50/50 split, to fund administration, and other departments/schools. (At Harvard, the university gets double the grant, a 2/1 split; and IIRC correctly, Dartmouth was even worse.) Thus the best humanities departments tend to be at the places with Big Science.

Currently I'm working at a startup and a retired chemistry professor is here; he has great stories over lunch, and the other day he mentioned that he alone had had a bigger budget than the entire theater department at a well-known, academically respected state-supported university.

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Happy

It is difficult - well, for me anyway. Partly because education also links to cultivation - development - growth as well as the obvious skills.

On the other hand making maths a dull meaningless application of juggling numbers seems as daft as making art a dull meaningless application of various colours applied by wooden stick with hairy bits at the end (on the stick I mean. Not on artist or mathematician)

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Funny thing is...

When I did my IT degree (back in the late 80's admittedly) those of us doing "science" degrees were *required* to do a certain amount of "non-science" subjects to qualify for graduation (as a native French speaker - but not from France - I qualified by learning basic French). Supposedly, this was to teach us nerds how to live in the real world (I'm paraphrasing here, but that was the gist of it).

But there was no reverse requirements for (say) Arts students, who were allowed to go their merry little way totally oblivious to how science works (or how to give correct change without the help of a Point-Of-Sale system).

Last I checked (5 years ago), this was still true.

This point, BTW also works for those trying to push to teach creationism in US schools - tell you what, fellah; I'll be cool about teaching having Creationism taught in schools the day you're happy for your priest/pastor/whatever to teach evolution in Church.

Turnabout, in both these cases, should be fair play.

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Anonymous Coward

"Sociology degrees. Please take one." I believe.

Leicester University student union building, basement toilets. 1983.

Last time I was there, the socialist worker nutters outside, were replaced by "Sheikh Ali Jihad" inside, and two white western "born again" converts, one male, and a female allowed out of the small room because it helped the cause.

Nothing changes.

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